34 great gift ideas for Christmas 2013

Thanks to the Christmas Clock I can tell you there are only 34 shopping days until Christmas.  Eek! You’d best get onto the gift shopping then.  But where to start?  Well you could do worse than check out my Christmas Gadget Gift Guide for 2013.

Music:

Everybody loves music and there are plenty of cool music gadgets out there to help you enjoy your favourite sounds.  The UE Boom from Logitech has to be one of the must-have gadgets for the summer.  Not only does it sound great, it’s portable, rechargeable, waterproof and you can pair two together to increase the acoustics. This device will easily last for the best part of a day on one charge from a micro USB cable.  It is priced at $299 but shop around and you’ll get it for less than that. Staying with bluetooth sound, the Wowee One Pro is a neat device that pairs with Bluetooth compatible devices, providing you with a portable and fixed audio connection.  This little device can transform into a hands-free speakerphone for in car calls. The audible caller ID function lets you know who’s on the line while your listening to your music. Another recognisable name in audio Sony also has a great range of sound products.  My pick for personal audio is The 4GB waterproof MP3 Walkman.  It weighs little more than a standard set of earbuds yet can store thousands of songs and it’s waterproof, meaning you can complete many laps in the pool while listening to your favourite beats.  It’s also a steal at just $99.95.

Tablets:

Speaking of Sony,  the Tablet Xperia Z got great reviews this year and if you already have a relatively recent Sony TV this device will interact with it seamlessly. There are a lot of tablets to choose from this year.  Of course Apple have released two new models just in time for Christmas, the iPad Air and the latest iPad Mini. Also just released are the new Microsoft Surface tablets (the Surface 2 and the new Surface Pro).  What I really like about the Surface 2 is that it comes pre-installed with working versions of Microsoft Office. As long as you get a touch cover to go with it you’ll find this a very productive tablet (great for students or business people traveling between meetings). This week LG announced it’s re-entry into the tablet market with the LG G Pad 8.3 tablet, the latest addition to its G Series lineup of premium mobile devices. The new LG G Pad 8.3 has the first Full HD display on an 8-inch class tablet and wide range of connectivity features for a price of $599. Throughout the year I’ve been using the budget HP Slate 7 as a travel companion and at $229 it’s a relatively safe buy for younger members of the family.

SmartPhones:

The smartphone market has begun to mature and manufacturers now seem to push the software features as much as the hardware.  You’ll need to decide for yourself what size screen you want etc. but here are a few recommendations.  The new iPhones are out. The pricey iPhone 5S is a super-smart piece of machinery and I liked the Touch ID sensor more than I thought I would.  Still I would have preferred NFC to fingerprint recognition as a feature.  The colourful 5C variety promises two hours more battery life and if you like to customise your phone with colourful cases, this is the phone for you.  The most recent Android phone I’ve got my hands on is the LG G2.  With a big 5.2 inch HD screen, a 13mp camera and a 3,000 mhz battery and snappy processor, this phone is powerful.  Like the Samsung Galaxy range it has great specs and like the Apple range it comes in a sealed body (so no adding SD cards or swapping batteries with this one).  Talking about Samsung, if you’re a leading edge tech geek then you’re probably looking to add a smart watch, namely the Galaxy Gear,  to your personal gadget arsenal.  When it came out you could only use it with the Note 3 phablet, but Samsung has since started adding support for the S4, the S3 and the Galaxy Note 2.  Handy if you like taking calls and snapping pics from your wrist.  The best waterproof phone I tested this year was the Xperia Z1.  How it manages to have an open headphone jack and yet stay waterproof I don’t know, but it does.  Plus, it has an incredible camera with a range of software features that you’d expect from a standalone video camera. All of these phones have a price tag around $1,000. For something a wee bit cheaper, yet apparently able to give you super powers, you might want to check out Huawei’s Ascend P2.  It is only 8.4mm, making it super slim with an infinity edge and a 4.7-inch HD touch display at a reasonable price point of $599.

Health and Fitness:

While the point of this column is to talk about Christmas gifts, we all know that New Years rolls along very quickly after Yuletide, bringing with it the annual resolution list.  If you’ve eaten more than your weight in turkey and pudding, losing weight might be one of these resolutions.  The TomTom multi sport watch can probably help.  Not only does it track your runs and bike rides with GPS, it can record swimming distances too (thankfully it is fully waterproof). There’s only one thing more fun than exercising, and that’s sharing tour exercise stories with everybody afterwards.  Also getting into the smart sport watch market is Adidas.  The superior $600 miCoach SMART RUN packs a host of smarts into one wrist watch.  You can use it to track runs using the GPS mapping, set a personalised training schedules and monitor your heart rate while listening to your favourite music beamed wirelessly to compatible headphones – snazzy eh? While GoPro is fast becoming the generic term for sports video recording, Sony does a nice job too with its Action Cam.  If you want to be able to show those you’ve left in your wake there’s the ATC Chameleon cam which has a front and rear mounted lens. Those two viewing angles should amount to double the drama on the replay.

For the kids: 

I reviewed last years LeapPad 2 kids educational tablet and know a certain little someone who LOVES it a lot.  This year you can buy the LeapPad Ultra which has wi-fi, a rechargeable battery and a larger screen. This may make it more appealing to kids who have outgrown the LeapPad 2 but aren’t quite ready to use an iPad (with all of that relatively unfettered access to the internet and premium apps available etc).  Half way between the LeapPad and the iPad though is the SmarTab which is designed to keep kids entertained and educated.  The SmarTab Junior Tablet is designed specifically for children aged four and up and provides straight out of the box entertainment that they can start using immediately. Just power it on and they can start reading Spiderman comics, playing Sugar Rush or learning their ABC’s straight away. The $249 tablet is pre-loaded with over 50 books, educational apps and popular Disney and Marvel games, including Wreck-it-Ralph, Spiderman and Mickey Mouse.  If you do let your kids use an iPad I highly recommend the new Crayola range of  iPad Digitool apps and accessories.  Each kit has some some really cool handheld tools which you use with an ipad app to create designs and images that can be saved in an image gallery to email off to friends or print off at home. The different packs include a 3D tool kit to create eye-popping stand out designs, airbrush tools for spray art designs, glitter and metallic pens. Please note the iPad itself is not included!  Hitting the shelves with its third generation is the popular console game Skylanders Swap Force.  If the kids in your household have played previous instalments “Spyros Adventures” and “Giants” you’ll be familiar with the setup.  Collectable characters can be inserted into the game through a “portal of power” but this time you can swap bits of characters to add new powers. Sounds like fun!

For the home:

For some reason, this year I got to test a lot of gadgets for the home.  My wife certainly appreciated all of the vacuuming and food preparation I carried out for my segment on Breakfast.  So if you do feel brave enough to buy anybody a household product as a Christmas gift, these are the ones that carry the Gadget Guy seal of approval.  The $2,3000 Kenwood cooking chef is a top notch food mixer with a conduction heating plate, allowing you to mix and cook at the same time.  After a little accident at home (full cup of coffee meets light coloured carpet) I can tell you I have hands on experience with Bissell’s the Little Green.This waterproof vac acts like an emergency carpet cleaning unit for when accidents happen and your carpet needs quick action.  I’m guessing a lot of these spills happen around the festive season.  The vac has two chambers, one with carpet cleaner or treating the spill and one to capture all the moisture the unit vacuums up before stains set in.  If you love tasty food but hate fat, the Philips AirFryer might be the gadget for you. Philips has created a new fast and healthier way of cooking. Powered by the unique Rapid Air Technology, the Airfryer can bake, grill, roast and fry with little or no oil – yummy fries can be cooked in 12 minutes with up to 80% less fat according to Philips.

For the gaming geek:

There are plenty of options what with the launch of the latest generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft.  One accessory that piqued my interest was the Plantronics gaming rig.  The gamer in my household likes to keep in touch with his mates via Skype while playing GTA V and this phone-jack/gaming headset lets you take calls and keep playing.

Cameras:

It might be worth talking about an unusual solution – the Kaiser Baas R1 car camera.  2013 seemed to be the year of in car camera footage thanks to the amazing captured footage of events like the Russian meteorite crash in February and footage of a 747 falling from the sky near Bagram. Whether it’s an accident, incident or a fun road trip, the R1 Car Camera is designed to record everything that happens while you drive. I reviewed a number of great cameras this year.  The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 is a premium interchangeable lens DSLR camera, built for people who have high standards when it comes to imaging.  Its retro good looks and tiltable viewfinder are obvious style cues on the outside while the range of simple menu and software options give you infinite control over your output.  For fans of Digital SLR, Canon has a new intermediate level system to choose from. The Canon EOS 700D has an interchangeable lens and incredible smarts, for example continuous auto focus when recording video and an LCD screen with touch screen controls. It’s easy to use and produces vastly superior shots when compared to a smartphone (even if the “selfie” has been crowned the word of the year).

In summary, don’t forget, Christmas is not all about buying the latest and greatest gadget.  Spend time with the ones you love first, then, when you’re tired of that, you can retreat to a corner to play with your shiny new toys!  Merry Christmas everybody.

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Is this the Swiss Army Knife of computers? At the Asus Transformer Book Trio Launch in Sydney

When it comes to buying a computer, there are so many decisions you have to make.  Should you buy a full featured desktop computer or a more portable laptop? Then of course if you’re after something portable, should you go for a laptop or a tablet?

Well, Asus have come up with something that should solve those decision making issues – a machine that functions as laptop, tablet and a desktop all in one.

The Transformer Book Trio is a revolutionary hybrid computer that works as a laptop,  but you can also detach the 11.6 inch screen and use it as a tablet.

However, that’s not where the fun stops.  Unlike other hybrids, the keyboard doesn’t then become just a dumb device,  you can continue to use it as a powerful machine.  Simply connect it to a monitor with a mini display port or micro hdmi cable and hey presto, the keyboard becomes an Intel Core i5 powered desktop PC.

The other trick the Transformer Book Trio has up it’s sleeve is that it runs Windows 8.1 and Android 4.2 and you decide which system to use, when you want to use it.  With the display docked, Transformer Book Trio can switch instantly between Windows 8 and Android 4.2 by pressing the dedicated ‘Trio’ key on the keyboard, with data shared between the two operating systems via the tablet’s storage.   (Full specs are included at the end of this article).

Asus are yet to confirm pricing or distribution details for the device in New Zealand but hopefully it will make it here before the end of the year.

One device that has been confirmed however is the Transformer Book T100 and this is an incredibly well priced hybrid proposition.  The T100 is an ultraportable laptop with a detachable HD screen that can be used as a Windows tablet.

Tantalisingly, the machine comes pre installed with Microsoft Office, Home and Student edition.  Given that you can pay $240 for Office in store, this makes the T100’s  $699 price tag almost ridiculously low.  It’s great news for consumers and I can see this device being snapped up by students or parents of students. It’s light too at just over 1kg.

Asus also gave us hands on time at the event with the new glass encased Asus Zenbook, a powerful ultra premium laptop pitched at the corporate road warrior.  Again, we are waiting to hear when this desirable device will make it to New Zealand.

SPECIFICATIONS – Transformer Book Trio

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SPECIFICATIONS – Transformer Book T100

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Prices and specifications are correct at the time of publication.  John Buckley traveled to the Sydney event as a guest of Asus Australia/New Zealand.

Microsoft launches the Surface 2 in New Zealand

Microsoft held an event tonight at the revamped Victoria Park Markets to launch the all new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 (see the pics below).  Just about every tweak that could have been made to the original Microsoft-made tablets has been made and the new machines are ready to go on sale worldwide tomorrow.

Luckily for us Kiwis, that means we don’t have to wait months for the new Surface’s to reach our shores (as we did with the first version).  We are the first market in the world to put them on sale, which means you can buy them at your local electronics retailer from tomorrow morning.

Prices start at $649 for the Surface 2 and $1299 for the virtual laptop replacement, the Surface Pro 2.  If you are after an entry level tablet, the original Surface RT is still part of the family with a software update to Windows 8.1 and is available for a steal ($499 in real money terms).  Keyboards, covers and other accessories are additional.

What do you get for your money?

Surface 2 ($649 for the 32 GB version, $799 for the 64 GB).

  • Windows 8.1
  • 10.6 inch HD screen
  • Office programmes pre-installed
  • Front and rear facing cameras
  • Free Skype for 1 year
  • 200 GB free SkyDrive storage for two years

Surface Pro 2 (various configurations from 64 GB – $1,299, to 512 GB $2,599)

  • Windows 8.1
  • 10.6 inch HD screen
  • Fourth generation Intel Core i5 processor
  • USB 3.0 port
  • Pressure sensitive Surface Pen input device

LG Curved 55″ OLED TV to go on sale in New Zealand

On Breakfast this morning Rawdon Christie and I took a tour of this amazing “living rooms through the decades” installation at TVNZ’s Auckland Headquarters.

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LG New Zealand has created the unique installation called “The Evolution of Television” to launch the next generation of TVs, including their revolutionary Curved OLED shown below.

The TVNZ foyer has been transformed into a series of installations, showcasing a typical living room scene from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 90s and 00s to mark the development of television through the decades.

The jewel in the crown is LG’s new 55-inch Curved OLED TV, New Zealand’s first OLED TV which goes on sale on September 11. This TV is an absolute beauty. The new technology doesn’t require a backlight as the OLED film emits it’s own light, resulting in dark blacks, excellent contrast and vibrant colour images.

The curved perspex stand is also a bit sexy (can I say that? Oh well, I just did).

This is the industry’s very first curved screen ergonomic design, providing an “IMAX-like” viewing experience in the home.

Only 4.3 millimetres at its thinnest point and weighing just 17 kilograms, LG’s curved OLED TV produces astoundingly vivid and realistic images. This is the TV for early adopters with $17,000 in their back pocket. If that sounds like you, you can make an expression of interest through the website at http://www.lg.com/nz

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The OLED TV surrounded by the new range of UHDTV’s (featuring 5 models in 55″, 65″ and 84″).

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Up close and personal with the OLED TV. The clear perspex stand almost makes it seem like the image is floating in the air.

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Not the heir, but a spare – the HP Slate 7 tablet reviewed

Tablet PC’s have been the big story in tech for the past few years, but only one in ten of us Kiwis actually own one.  While Samsung, Microsoft, Asus and others have delivered capable devices to try and grab a share of the market, Apple’s iPad is the undisputed King of the Tablets in this country.

But not all devices aspire to the throne.  Appealing to the bottom end, HP has released the Slate 7, a small Android tablet with a nifty $229 price tag.

While the price and the brand name make you sit up and take notice, a number of compromises have been made to get the unit out the door at that price.

You might be wondering just who this low priced tablet is aimed at?  My guess is that this device will be bought by parents who already have an iPad, a Surface or a Galaxy Tab, but they don’t like the kids playing with it.  Just think of all those grubby fingers and potential “drop-it-in-the-fish-tank” scenarios!

The Slate 7 is a cheap, robust unit that could quite happily keep kids entertained, all the way up to intermediate school level.  Beyond that, high school and university students will probably be looking for a machine that allows them to create content, not just consume it.  Even then, the HP tablet could capably act as a spare tablet when they just want to chill out and listen to music or view a movie.

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What’s good about it?

  • The Slate 7 is an affordable Android Jelly Bean consumer tablet that provides easy access to a range of Google Mobile services such as Google Now, Google Search, Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive and Google+ Hangouts.
  • The 7-inch diagonal screen is bound by a stainless-steel frame and either a grey or red soft touch cover on the back. It feels comfortable and sturdy, if not quite rugged.
  • It is the industry’s first tablet to offer embedded Beats Audio technology which plays nice with Beats Audio headphones or ear buds (though you will be hard pressed to notice a difference with non-Beats earphones).
  • Son of Gadget Guy declared it to be “really good for games” having downloaded a few of his favourite titles from the Google Play store.

And here’s what you don’t get for a $229 price tag.

  • A high definition screen – the Slate 7 screen is an unusual ‘envelope” format 1024 by 600 pixels LCD with only 170 dpi.
  • Much storage – it comes with a meagre 8GB of on board storage, but happily, it does have a micro SD slot allowing you to add up to 32GB.
  • A high resolution camera – the rear facing camera is only 3mp and the front facing camera is VGA.  However it does at least have that rear facing camera (unlike the pricier but very well regarded Nexus 7).
  • Options beyond wifi – there’s no option to switch to 3G when you are out and about I’m afraid.

Pricing: The HP Slate7 has a starting price of NZD$229.

Summary: The HP Slates 7 is a nuts and bolts Android tablet with a bargain basement purchase price.

Google

 

Going hands on with the Galaxy S4 a day before release

After weeks of pre-release publicity and virulent excitement, the new Samsung Galaxy S4 goes on sale worldwide in just a few hours time.  Rather fortunately, I didn’t have to join a queue to get my hands on one; a press review unit made its way over to The Gadget Guy mansions late this afternoon.
Now, one afternoon and evening is not really enough time to properly review a phone. I find it usually takes a week or more of regular real-world use before you pick up on a smartphone’s real strengths and weaknesses.  So, this is a limited review, for the time being anyway, and one in which I’ll really only skim the surface and give you my first impressions after a few hours of playing with the S4.
Right-o, let’s have a look under a few main headings.

Look and Feel:

Compared to its predecessor, the S4 feels easier to hold.  While the S3 had a curved edge, the S4 has flatter sides which counter-intuitively makes it feel more comfortable in the hand. The shiny plastic back is still slick, or slippy if you prefer.  The first accessory I bought for my S3 was a sleeve which reduced its slipperiness. I feel the same solution will be needed for the S4.
It is nice and light, and despite having a larger display  than the S3 (5″ versus 4.8″) it feels marginally more compact.
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Image: A Samsung sandwich.  Photo shows from top to bottom Galaxy S3, the new S4 and a Galaxy Note 2.
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Image: Spot the family resemblance. From left to right, Note 2, S4, S3.

The Screen:

Big, bright, brash and bold, the screen reminds me of what I loved about the earlier S2. Not everyone is going to be fan of the saturated colour or the vivid brightness, but if you have a problem with it you can always turn it down or just choose a more sedate setting.
The HD screen is fantastic. Even with a strong magnifying glass (a recent purchase – these eyes ain’t what they used to be) its hard to see the pixels.
Jumping back to the physical attributes, it’s worth noting that the sides of the device form a slight ridge around the screen which should mean the screen itself won’t come in contact with any flat surfaces you place it on.
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Image: Hard to see in this photo but the S3 has a slightly dimmer output at full blast than the S4.

The Smarts:

With the S4 you get a great form factor, powerful processor, high spec camera and a hi-def screen. What more could you want?  Apparently you want a range of novel features that make the phone appear to have landed here from the future.  Following the instructions in the bundled handbook I took a tour of some of the S4’s smart features.  Yes, it’s interesting that you can hover your finger over content to expand or view it, but really, if your fingers a millimetre from the screen why not just touch it?  If I’ve got sticky fingers I probably won’t be handling my phone let alone getting it into a position where I can hover a digit over it.  I’ve been wrong about stuff before of course and there’s a chance I’ll grow to  use and maybe even value it.

There’s a function which allows you to nod to scroll down a web page.  This worked for me 50% of the time. With a bit more training (of me or the phone – I’m not yet sure which) this could be a feature I would use.

Finally, I tried to test the smart pause function which apparently pauses a video if you stop looking at it. For some reason I couldn’t get it to work but it’s not a feature I would consider compulsory.

So, my first impressions are good and there’s a lot of areas I want to have a better look at (the camera, the editable notifications, group play for sharing content, the S Health app for example) but that will have to wait.

In the meantime if you’d like a more comprehensive view of the phone’s features you can view this run down of the S4’s features from the local Samsung team. Either that or get in store and get your hands on one tomorrow for yourself.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 launch

An impressive event all round. Expect the Galaxy Note 2 in New Zealand around the last week of November. Approximately $1100.  TBC.

Looking for NZ pricing details. Here’s me in the meantime.

 

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I don’t know who these people are. Ricki-Lee? Sam Sparro? Okay.

We’ve had the galaxy camera and ativ range. Now for the main event.
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Todd Sampson there.
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Getting interesting now. That’s a big stage.

 

 

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Live from the halls of industry in Sydney.